This week's cocktail of choice is definitely a surprise. It's called a Harvey Wallbanger, and it's justifiably regarded as a tacky midcentury relic that peaked in the era of the fern bar.
Fern bars were a post-disco phenomenon of dark wood and stained glass and men wearing a lot of cologne. If you remember the show "Three's Company," think of the Regal Beagle. The cocktails that accompanied the fern bar tended to be overly sweet and juice-based, and usually given awful names such as Sex on the Beach. There were also a lot of drinks that were really just spiked milkshakes, like mudslides and grasshoppers.
One of the archetypal cocktails of the era was the Harvey Wallbanger, made with orange juice, vodka and Galliano, an Italian herbal liqueur. Invented in the '60s, it was marketed to evoke easy beach living. At around the same time that fern bars took off, Galliano changed its recipe, reducing the more bracing ingredients, like anise, juniper berry and peppermint, and bumping up the heavy vanilla notes. Which means the Harvey Wallbanger was essential OJ and vodka with a glug of vanilla syrup. You can understand how people thought mixed drinks were both too sweet and absolutely silly.
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But! A few years ago Galliano changed its formula, switching back to a more balanced recipe where the herbs have room to breathe, rather than drowning in vanilla musk.
So a Harvey Wallbanger doesn't seem so ridiculous anymore. Aside from the name, of course. At MiniBar, the semi-hidden '60s-inspired lounge at the Best Western Hollywood Hills (home of the 101 Coffee Shop), the bartenders are playing around with fern bar drinks, and this is absolutely the best one. They've subbed out vodka in favor of gin, which is a cheat, but it also makes sense: Now the cocktail is complex, and good for slow sipping, rather than chugging back like a boozed-up Sunny D.
So, yes, I am unironically telling you that going to the bar at the Best Western and ordering a Harvey Wallbanger is a fun night out. How things have changed.
6141 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. (323) 798-4939, minibarhollywood.com.